The conglomerate went on a debt-fuelled spending spree in the past decade, borrowing $US12 billion ($13bn) to fund ambitious projects in Dubai and to create a private equity arm that bought stakes in Tussauds and budget hotel chain Travelodge.
Together, Dubai World and Dubai Holding are thought to account for 60 to 70 per cent of Dubai's total debt. Research from Bank of America Merrill Lynch indicates that Dubai Holding has $US1.8bn due for repayment next year.
Analysts at Barclays Capital said in a note last week that Dubai Holding was most at risk of defaulting on its debts after Dubai World because it had extensive property assets, was highly leveraged and had already faced problems in the past year.
Insiders say the immediate focus is the $US3.5bn loan due for repayment by Nakheel, Dubai World's property arm, on December 14, which triggered Dubai's debt crisis.
Details of the main lenders to Dubai Holding are not public, but bankers in Dubai say the group borrowed from international banks, including Royal Bank of Scotland and HSBC, as well as local lenders.
One official close to the company conceded the firm was "a bloody mess" and its boss, Mohammed Gergawi, a close confidant of Sheikh Mohammed, had been "in denial" about the problems it faced. "It's true that we were a very large holding company with very few checks and balances on what we did and how we operated," he said.
However, he insisted the company had recently begun "restructuring and deleveraging in a sensible fashion". The once-sprawling conglomerate has been split into four divisions: property, leisure and hotels, investments and free zones -- tax-free business parks in Dubai. Thousands of staff have been laid off, notably in Dubai Properties, the firm's indebted real estate arm.
He insisted there "is money available to meet our debt obligations", but conceded that the firm would have to work hard to reassure markets that was the case. There is growing mistrust of senior Dubai officials because last week's announcement of a standstill on debt repayments by Dubai World, which has $US60bn of debt, was made three weeks after Sheikh Mohammed categorically assured investors Dubai would pay its debts on time.
Dubai Holding yesterday denied the firm faced any problems repaying its debts.